Hunt for the Wilderpeople is one of the best feel-good films of 2016. Who would have thought a film that deals with a rejected youth (Benson) and a grizzled old man (Sam Neill) mourning the sudden loss of his wife could put one in such a good mood upon initial viewing? This comes as a result of Taiki Waititis’ ability to carefully employ the perfect amount of humour required to counter these heavy moments. This is particularly evident in a specific church scene, which, if not in the right hands, could have resulted in an awkward couple of minutes for viewers to endure. As Waititi has demonstrated with his previous directorial feature, What We Do In The Shadows, he is fully aware of when it is appropriate to use humour while also making us feel for his characters and the events that they experience.
In the case of Hunt for the Wilderpeople, his protagonists are both outsiders searching for meaning in a world that doesn’t offer a place for them. Both are cautious of each other upon their first meeting, but as the film progresses they soon start to grow closer to one another and make for one of 2016’s best comedic duos, a strong rival to Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling in Shane Black’s The Nice Guys.
The film is also beautifully shot with gorgeous establishing shots of New Zealand and adopts a similar filmmaking style to that of Wes Anderson, along with the same awkward sense of humour, as mentioned above. Like Anderson, Waititi’s narrative is both engaging and unconventional, which is notable during a climatic car chase towards the film’s close, one that will have the viewer both at the edge of their seat and roaring with laughter. It is safe to say after watching Wilderpeople that Thor: Ragnarok (2017) is in very good hands. Sean Moriarty